Dubai-based restaurant review website, FoodSheikh who works under an anonymous principle for unbiased dining experiences and reviews, talks about the transparency and trust of sponsored posts by bloggers and PRs in the UAE…
I’m no media expert – when asked to do an op-ed piece, I had to google it before I said yes. There have been a few times in my life when I wish I had googled something before saying yes.
Where there is media, there are adverts and sponsorships. The two are inseparable and reliant on each other. Without one, the other will not survive. So, this is not an exploration on the morals and ethics of sponsorship. This is a brief exploration into the transparency and trust of sponsored posts, specifically in the ridiculous foodie world.
“Hospitality bloggers accept free meals, products or cash to review or promote restaurants and hotels. So what? As consumers, we are not being exposed to anything new—it seems it is only the PR and media people that take the most offense to this practice.”
To quote Garth from comedy film, Wayne’s World, “It’s like, people only do things because they get paid and that’s just really sad.” He was of course, dressed head to toe in Reebok.
In a recent survey done (admittedly, with a small sample size of 200 people) through FoodSheikh, an overwhelming 92.5% of respondents answered that it is either ‘quite’ or ‘very’ important that bloggers inform their communities if they have received a payment of sorts for the post. In a similar survey done by contently.com, two-thirds of readers have felt deceived upon realising that a brand sponsored an article or video.
However, it seems some bloggers don’t have the courage to let their community know there is a sponsored post incoming or they try to hide it as if it’s a dirty word or concept. They need to embrace the freebie or acknowledge the payment and be very clear about it. A casual “I was invited to…” doesn’t cut it and neither does the ambiguous “I had the opportunity to visit…” The community deserves more than that.
So, transparency is key – if a blogger is going to accept free meals or trips or cash for a specific content, they have a moral responsibility to clearly inform their community. In the future, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a legal responsibility too.
I then asked what level of trust do you have in the opinion of bloggers who have been paid to write about an experience or a product.
My apologies to PR companies and bloggers alike out there, but, here’s the thing. Sponsored content has a trust issue. With every sponsored post that is uploaded, the credibility in bloggers diminishes. In the book, The Content Code, Schaefer interviews 50 media content leaders to ask what made their content soar above the rest. There was just one theme that every leader mentioned. Trust. Never, ever, jeopardise trust, they said. Without trust, you’ve got nothing. You’ve got no voice, no credibility, no influence and eventually no sponsors—because products and brands won’t be associated with those attributes for very long.
Sponsored blogging started to emerge properly around 2005/2006 and in ten short years, according to contently.com, over 54% of people already don’t trust sponsored content, in just ten years.
Foodsheikh ran a similar survey and found that a significant 72.5% of respondents had a ‘very low’ or ‘low’ level of trust in the opinion of bloggers that wrote sponsored posts. On the surface, it’s clear that sponsored posts struggle with credibility.
However, scratch that surface a little and it becomes a bit more complicated. Variables such as, how much of a blogger’s content is sponsored, what kind of sponsorship it is or how long someone has been following them and ultimately what the content is, all play a part in determining credibility. If a blogger’s posts were always positive with posts like ‘the best ever’, ‘amazing’ and ‘a must visit’ it would bring the credibility into question.
So, to summarise—if you’ll excuse the pun—we are crystal clear on transparency. Transparency is mandatory.
However, trust, it seems ‘can’ be earned. It just ‘cannot’ be bought.
FoodSheikh received no compensation from The Media Network for this article. Unfortunately.